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106   5 The War Spreads to Bosnia-Herzegovina Splitting up the admittedly imperfect but viable Yugoslav federation would be virtually impossible without drastic and brutal political and economic surgery. . . . Every conceivable divorce between Serbia and Croatia would of necessity involve not only a painful partition of Bosnia and Herzegovina but also the explosive question of the ethnic identity of Yugoslav Muslims and nightmarish exchanges of hundreds of thousands [of refugees]; . . . who in his right mind would want to open a Pandora’s box? —George B. Tomashevich, letter to the editor, New York Times, 1980 The breakup of the Yugoslav federation was a gradual event that occurred in distinct phases. The secessions of Slovenia and Croatia in 1991 represented the first phase of the breakup, which encouraged further acts of secession by the remaining republics. The trend toward secession then established a momentum of its own, which triggered a complete unraveling of national unity. By December 1991, Yugoslavia’s prime minister, Ante Marković, had resigned, and shortly after this, the country officially ceased to exist.1 For the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina these events were to prove especially tragic: The federation’s breakup destabilized Bosnia by disrupting the delicate fabric of relations among its constituent ethnic groups.The Yugoslav federation had long given a measure of security to the groups—the Muslims , Serbs, and Croats—which enabled them to function with a modicum of inter­ ethnic cordiality. The federation’s destruction ended Bosnia’s atmosphere of security and set the stage for war. The breakup of Yugoslavia did indeed entail “brutal political and economic surgery” and a “painful partition of Bosnia and Herzegovina,” just as Professor Tomashevich had predicted it would in his April 1980 letter to the New York Times. The new circumstances caused “nightmarish exchanges of hundreds of thousands” of refugees— events that, once again, had been predicted. The War Spreads to Bosnia-Herzegovina   107 In the previous chapter, we saw that foreign powers led by Germany played a key role in making possible Yugoslavia’s breakup, and they therefore contributed to the larger tragedy of the wars that resulted. During the Bosnia war, there was a major shift in the character of the external influences. With Bosnia, the United States would for the first time play a leading role in managing the breakup of Yugoslavia. Previously, the United States had resisted major involvement in the Balkans, regarding the matter as a local, European concern of second-order importance. By early 1992, however, US officials initiated a policy change in favor of more direct involvement. With Bosnia’s independence in 1992, the conflict thus began its “American phase.” The claim that the United States was active in the Bosnia war from its earliest phases will surprise some readers, given the widespread perception that US officials ignored Bosnia and were reluctant to intervene. Fairly typically, a 1992 editorial in the Philadelphia Inquirer condemned President Bush for an “obvious lack of leadership” with regard to Bosnia, and for “doing nothing except talk about sending food.”2 New York Times columnist Anthony Lewis compared Bush to Neville Chamberlain for his alleged unwillingness to take action in the Balkans.3 Many academic studies adopt a similar view and criticize extended US “inaction” in Bosnia.4 Such views constitute a basic misunderstanding of the historical record, as I argue in this chapter. In fact, the United States played a crucial role in the diplomacy of Bosnia’s independence from the very beginning of the conflict; this intervention began even before Bosnia formally declared itself an independent state. In taking these steps, the United States would help spread and intensify the disorder that began in 1991. US Support for Bosnian Independence The main conduit for US influence was Bosnian president Alija Izetbegović and his government. Officially elected in late 1990, the Izetbegović government was staffed with pro-American figures. In memoirs, French general Philippe Morillon, who commanded UN peacekeeping forces in Bosnia, wrote: “The majority of the immediate advisors to President Izetbegović . . . had studied in the US and had many US contacts.” General Morillon added that, among UN officials, “we would sometimes speak of the ‘American mafia ’” that surrounded Izetbegović.5 A particularly important figure was Bosnia ’s UN ambassador and later foreign minister, Muhamed Sacirbey. Richard Holbrooke described Sacirbey as “one of the bright hopes for the fledgling Bosnian government. Married to an American, he was until 1992 as American as he was Bosnian; his enemies in Bosnia attacked him for speaking his...


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